Sea row can't be settled by force, coercion, Philippines' Aquino tells Japan's parliament

Philippines President Benigno Aquino says on Wednesday the dispute in the South China Sea cannot be settled through military force or coercion. -- PHOTO: EPA 
Philippines President Benigno Aquino says on Wednesday the dispute in the South China Sea cannot be settled through military force or coercion. -- PHOTO: EPA 

MANILA - President Benigno Aquino said on Wednesday the dispute in the South China Sea cannot be settled through military force or coercion.

"For both our nations, we know that harmony is a collective achievement and not one that can be dictated through coercion," he said in a speech before a joint session of Japan's parliament, the National Diet.

"We steadfastly uphold that military might can never be the arbiter for the resolution of disagreements," he told Japan's lawmakers, who responded with a standing ovation.

In a veiled criticism of China, Mr Aquino said freedom of navigation in East and South-east Asia "is at risk of being disrupted by attempts to redraw the geographic limits and entitlements outside those clearly bestowed by the law of nations".

Echoing a speech he delivered earlier in the day, Mr Aquino urged China to consider whether digging in with island fortresses in the South China Sea is a "necessary step" towards creating prosperity in South-east Asia.

"Perhaps I may share with you a question that I posed to a country that we both have had difficulties with: If all governments are there to serve the people from whom they derive their power, is it not incumbent upon all to maintain stability, which is a necessary prerequisite for prosperity? How does fomenting tension help us achieve the primary goal of bettering the lives of our people?" he said.

Speaking at a business forum prior to his address before parliament, Mr Aquino drew parallels between present-day China and Nazi Germany, as he argued for a deeper United States involvement in the South China Sea.

"If there was a vacuum, if the United States… says, 'We are not interested', then perhaps there will be no brake to the ambitions of other countries," Mr Aquino said in response to questions about Washington's much-ballyhooed "pivot" to Asia during a business forum in Tokyo on Wednesday.

He said the situation in the South China Sea reminds him of the international community's failure to contain Nazi Germany before World War II.

"I'm reminded of… how Germany was testing the waters and what the response was by various European powers," he said, referring to the disastrous appeasement of Adolf Hitler in the late 1930s.

He said; "They tested the waters, and they were ready to back down if, for instance, in that aspect, France had said, 'Stop'. But unfortunately, up to the annexation of the Sudetenland…, the annexation of the entire country of Czechoslovakia, nobody said, 'Stop'."

In 1938, part of Czechoslovakia was handed to Hitler after he assured Britain that his troops would not invade the rest of the country in exchange for the Sudetenland.

However, having taken control of the Sudetenland, Hitler invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939.

Mr Aquino quickly drew a stinging retort from China's Foreign Ministry, which called his remarks "outrageous and unreasonable".

"I once more seriously warn certain people in the Philippines to cast aside their illusions and repent, stop provocations and instigations, and return to the correct path of using bilateral channels to talk and resolve this dispute," ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.

This was not the first time Mr Aquino likened China to Nazi Germany.

In a 90-minute interview with The New York Times in February last year, he compared the Philippines' plight to that of Czechoslovakia in the lead up to World War II.

"If we say yes to something we believe is wrong now, what guarantee is there that the wrong will not be further exacerbated down the line? At what point do you say, 'Enough is enough'? Well, the world has to say it," he told The New York Times.

Beijing responded by calling Mr Aquino "amateurish", "ignorant", and "lame".

Mr Aquino is on a four-day state visit to beef up defence ties between the Philippines and Japan amid China's increasingly assertive posture in the East and South China Seas.

rdancel@sph.com.sg